• Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    Pruning: the basics

    A young peach tree volunteer, pruned its first year for height and health.

    Pruning is a point of contention with me. If you plant a plant in the right place, meaning that it has room enough to grow to its full potential without having to be constantly cut back, then you really won’t have pruning issues. So often I see trees being used as hedges right next to houses or pathways, so they have to be butchered regularly to keep in shape. Because the tree is supposed to be large it produces a lot of woody growth, and over time that is what you’ll see: lots of cut wood with a layer of leaves over the top. Or thorny plants right next to pathways. Or trees with invasive root systems, such as Ficus, California or Brazilian Pepper (neither from California), or eucalyptus, planted right outside a house or near the septic tank. These plants are aggressive in how they find water and they will lift pavement. So understanding the nature of the plant through research, not just what the employee at the garden center has to say, is important so that you aren’t planting an expensive and possibly hazardous problem. If I could wave a magic wand and eliminate 90% of the above-mentioned trees in this state and replace them with drought-tolerant native trees, I’d have no hesitation.

    This is eugenia, which has a pretty white flower and red edible berries. I’ve seen this tree planted in multiples between a house and a sidewalk in a 2′ wide planting strip and kept to a 1′ x 3′ square, and planted there by a professional landscaper. Unbelievable.

    Back to pruning and away from my tree-placement rant.

    During my consultations I hear clients say, “This tree needs pruning.” I ask them why they think so, and often they really don’t know. They feel that they have to control the tree somehow, or that human intervention is required. My response is usually, save your money and the preserve the health of the tree by NOT PRUNING. When you make a wound in a plant you open it up for disease and insects. If you continue to change the nature of the tree it will be stressed, and then you will have more insect and disease issues. So please, just leave the trees alone, in most cases.

    A horticultural teacher once explained that lawns are partially there for stress control. A person rides through aggressive traffic twice a day, works at a miserable job with miserable people, comes home to messes, a cranky family and bills, has weight issues. So on the weekends he or she can break out the lawnmower and cut that grass down, keep it the same size and make it obey. They have some control over something in their lives, and making that grass immaculate is possibly the only thing standing between them and the loony bin. Over the years from what I’ve seen, I have to agree with that teacher, and extend the example to tree and shrub pruning as well.

    When you have young fruit trees, you are planting them for production. You are using them as livestock, so manipulating them for maximum yield is probably on your mind; however, long life and chemical-free growing should also be on your mind, and again, resisting the urge to chop away at your trees is the best bet. Don’t take advice from those in the food-producing industry because they are maximizing their crop for sale using every means they can, including having a short life expectancy for their trees which they will replace at projected intervals. Backyard fruit production is different. You want fruit, but a nice-looking yard as well.

    Before you begin, be sure that you have sharp tools that are up for the job. Hand pruners for small stuff, loppers for 1/2″ – 1″, and saws for larger branches. ALWAYS bring Lysol or a bleach solution to clean your blades so that you won’t spread any disease between trees, and treat your blades between each tree. Keep your tools sharp and don’t twist them when cutting or you will mess up your blades. Wear hand, eye, arm, and breathing protection because those little bits have a way of fighting back. For larger limbs, head protection as well. Its better to look like you are ready for a nuclear explosion than to be injured by snapping branches, thorns, falling debris, and even angry insects or birds.

    Understand what you are pruning. Many fruit trees and berries fruit on second-year wood, so if you cut it all off, you won’t have blooms. Just because something doesn’t have leaves on it doesn’t mean that its dead; many plants have late dormancy, or go drought dormant in the heat of the summer. If you lightly scratch the bark with your fingernail and there is green underneath, it is alive.

    Prune to a node. A node is a growth point. Aim for one that is facing out or to the side, rather than into the plant.

    Cut close to the stem, but not right up against it. There is a collar at the base of each shoot, and if you cut just above that, then that will callus over. If you cut into it, it will leave a wound that can be infected. If you leave a stem, that will die back to the node and in doing so may bring in fungus or insects. If you are cutting something heavy, then make an undercut first, then make another cut on top further along the branch, and then the weight of the branch won’t make the bark tear and rip down the tree. Make a final cut close to the collar.

    Undercut to prevent the bark from ripping.
    Make the top cut away from the undercut.
    Make the ‘clean up’ cut now that the weight is off, close to the node or collar. Slanted cuts will repel water.

    The basics for pruning are, for new trees, cut off dead wood. If you have large ornamental trees, you don’t need to do this unless there is disease or insects in the dead wood, or there is a threat of large dead wood falling on someone. Otherwise, don’t feel the need to ‘clean up’ the tree. Most of the insects and fungus that will inhabit that wood are benign, and actually help with the health of the tree and the ecosystem around it.

    Cut off diseased wood. If there is a black or brown ooze from a branch, have it identified. It is probably a fungus or an insect. It may be easy to control, but you have to know. Burn, hot compost (150F – 170F), or bag up and throw away that wood so that you aren’t spreading a pathogen.

    Cut crossing branches that are rubbing up against each other and will open wounds on the bark. Also, trim some branches that start at one side of the tree and grow through the middle to the other side. They aren’t doing the plant any favors.

    A branch broken and torn from too much fruit weight combined by winds.

    After you do these quick pruning jobs, usually you have very little to do in the future for maintaining your trees. If you have pine trees, please research the type you have to know if they will regrow at the pruning points or not. So often pines are butchered and they won’t grow back where cut. Or the idea is to ‘give them air’. We have Santa Ana winds, for heaven’s sakes, not muggy conditions that build up fungus like Chicago. Most non-native pines (to S. Ca.) thrive with humidity, so ‘cleaning up’ the pine to allow air flow will just stress them out even further by drying them out. (Also, many pines such as sequoias won’t thrive in S. Ca. because of our alkaline soil and alkaline water. They will live for awhile, and then their root base just can’t feed the growing top of the tree which is supposed to be huge due to the inability to obtain the nutrients they require from our non-acidic soil conditions.)

    Many people prune their fruit trees down for height so that you can pick them. This should be done within the first two years after planting a tree so that its hardwood forms low, and then the greenwood sprouts can be pruned yearly to keep it low. Again, if you plant a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree, then you won’t need to stress out the tree every year.

    When you stress a plant, just like when you yourself become stressed, you will have to treat it. Usually people resort to a series of chemicals, each of which incur more issues that will need to be treated with more chemicals. If you stress a tree and it is covered with insects you then spray those insects, which then also kills off all the hundreds of native preditory insects, so that you will have more bad insect and disease issues in the future. The best policy is to plant the right plant in the right place (permaculture is 99% design, remember), understand the needs of the particular plant and meet them, do any corrective pruning at the beginning (they are children and need gentle correction to help them grow strong!), and then provide them with appropriate soil and appropriate water from then on. No chemical sprays! No systemics! No tree torture! Less stress for the plants, and less stress and expense for you.

    If you feel the urge to prune, take up adult coloring books or yarn dying, labyrinth walking or birdhouse building instead until the urge passes. When you really don’t feel like pruning then you can logically evaluate your tree’s needs and won’t hack away at it. Its like not shopping while hungry. Enjoy the healthy beauty of your plants and the nature they support instead.

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    Habits I’ll Keep Post COVID-19

    At our house we already repurpose and recycle, and mend as much as we can. The COVID-19 pandemic made us wonder about supply availability, food security, and even more about our footprint on this planet. As we live in a fire zone, and with the longer, hotter summers and drought the thought of burning is always with us now. Fire season is everyday, not just in the fall. Although if we and our animals were safe it would be enough, the idea of losing the possessions which are touchstones with loved ones hurts. I’m not one to just take a photo of a thing and then give the item away; I rarely take time to look at photos, and seeing the small clay pots, paintings, books and kitchenware on a daily basis links me with loved ones past and elsewhere. So in 2010 we began some habits which we will continue, most of them started by my marvelous daughter, Miranda. Here is a short list:

    1. Washing and reusing plastic bags. We’ve been doing this for years on a smaller scale, but I wasn’t as diligent about single-use plastic bags when they came my way. Now we also wash and dry any aluminum foil, single-use bags and plastic cling-wrap. We try not to accumulate plastic, but we have frozen a lot of harvests and as we use the supply the bags become available again. Unfortunately the pandemic postponed the new practice in CA of bringing your own bags for groceries; instead of accumulating more I put my supplies back into the cart and bag them in the parking lot.

    2. Folded napkins. We stopped using paper napkins at mealtime and shifted to using cloth. My daughter began folding them using a book and the Internet as guides. Every meal feels posh now, and the idea of having to wash them makes me a more careful eater! Why not celebrate every meal?

    Miranda made the placemats with fabric laminated with an iron. They are on cardboard backing.

    3. Using the good stuff. My parents worked their way up from absolutely nothing. When I was in elementary school my mother went back to formal work as a manager in the new May Company department store in Carlsbad. She ran thirteen departments, and I spent many a sick day sorting yarn in the stockroom. She used her discount to buy beautiful things, including glassware. My parents loved entertaining; my mother would make everything including homemade baguettes, and serve drinks in lovely glasses. I inherited most of the glassware, where it languishes in my cabinets. I don’t entertain often, and when I do it is mostly informal. Miranda started a tradition of serving our morning juice in fancy glasses. She squeezes orange juice and grapefruit juice. We have a shot of grapefruit juice and a little more of the orange juice, which makes the use of shot glasses, tiny beer steins, champagne flutes and cocktail glasses so much fun. Its a little like having my parents at the table again, and I’m sure my mom would be so happy to see the glasses being used.

    4. Soaking in appreciation. Every moment is transient, and to make it last I must recognize it before it becomes the past. More than ever I work on changing the negatives and the fear in my thoughts. Deep breath in, deep breath out. If fire burns everything we have to ash, if I lose my ability to earn an income due to illness, injury or age and our lives change drastically economically, if even more tragedy comes to our doorstep, having lost so many friends these last years and suffering along with their families, I have this moment right now to appreciate. Right this moment I am okay. I have food, water and shelter, which is beyond what so many people have. Beyond that, its all cake. Health, loved ones, income, safety… all cake. Complaining about what I have or can’t have is as much of a sin as any other. So I try hard to have quiet appreciation of my life. It can’t be made ‘better’ with additions or subtractions, it can only change. Whether that change is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is purely opinion. Deep breath in, deep breath out. This goes a long way towards helping deal with the stress that has been raining from the skies instead of water this past year. Being appreciative when grieving, when hurting, when overwhelmed is a much more challenging task. Shaking my fists at the sky raging at the unfairness and injustice helps just a little, but if I hold onto the emotion I become ill. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Soak my soul with appreciation. So much cake.

    Gifts from friends, furniture that was my parent’s, a table that was free and temporary twenty years ago, prunings from our stonefruit trees about to burst into bloom, the early January sunset. All cake, and much appreciated.

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    August at Finch Frolic

    Black Beauty zucchini.

    This year Finch Frolic has been particularly beautiful. Of course, this year we had to close down throughout the spring. Fortunately we’ve been able to reopen for limited-capacity tours with safeties in place. However, I really miss sharing how lovely the garden is, and I want to let you have a little tour right in your home.

    Little Marvel Popcorn. It tastes so good!

    These photos were taken this morning before the temperature rose; its in the 90’sF here today, in North San Diego County. I apologize for the phone camera, as my good camera is in for repair. I only wish that you could also smell the moist mulch from the light overnight dew, or hear the clug-clug of the crow, the tittering of a flock of bushtits and the scuttling of lizards through leaves, which I experienced as I walked around the garden. All of these friends and so many hundreds more are working the garden today and every day, keeping it in balance.

    A blue dasher dragonfly, one of many species that patrol for insects all over our property. Their larvae in our ponds look like little dragons, and they eat mosquito larvae as well. Watercress behind.

    Our food forest is a low-water-use garden, on poor soil, using no additives to the ground other than occasional compost. There are no herbicides, pesticides or other factory-made chemicals used here, and there are two of us who care for the garden. Most of the seasonal beauty this year is due to the diligence of my daughter Miranda who took seed sprouting to a whole new level even before the pandemic arrived. We rely heavily on the insects, birds, lizards, frogs, soil and water microbes and creatures to do all the work protecting the plants, and the plants themselves to create good soil. All we add is a low dose of salty well water which the humus cleans, and leaves or sheet mulch on top. Our fruit trees receive a dose of blender compost once in awhile. Miranda and I hope that these photos bring you peace and lift your spirits, and that knowing you are looking at a safe habitat that is thriving with life gives you a feeling of security as well. It can be done. Permaculture must be done. Best of health! Diane

    From the driveway looking down the main pathway into the garden.
    Lorenziana Gaillardia, to feed the pollinators.
    Rock steps cross the large rain catchment basin. Sycamore leaves protect the soil from the heat.
    Our new orchard, with beans trained up a teepee over a fruit tree, and tomato cages behind.
    Our old Ca. Live Oak. Oaks are home to over 300 species of bird and insect.
    Our jasmine-covered gate in the sun.
    Resting place, made from recycled wood.
    Figs! Panache Striped Tiger.
    Dawn through the birch trees, with Naked Lady amaryllis blooming behind the blackberries.
    Our small bamboo bridge next to our little pond.
    Dawn through an olive tree.
    A native mallow wildly blooming over a bamboo footbridge Miranda just built.
    Black Krim.
    A plant guild combines plants with different functions for the benefit of all.
    The Torch Tithonia is over 5′ tall, and butterflies and birds love it. A plum, squash and orange tree in the foreground.
    We pollarded our willow trellis in January, and these tall interesting limbs are waiting for some creative project to arise.
    Kabocha squash.
    An army worm taking a sleep in a mallow flower.
    We grow the timber bamboo, and eat it, too!
    This beauty is a carrot, Lunar White, allowed to go to seed. Gorgeous and great food for our tiny native insects.
    Lorenziana Gaillardia.
    Straw flower and carrot.
    Apples do very well in hot weather. Cripps Two.
    Red Kuri squash vine past the seating.
    A whole mess of Naked Ladies!
    Tall Double Mix strawflowers, (Helichrysum bracteatum).
    The Withy Hide, or willow hut.
    Hard to believe that these massive trees grew so quickly. It has everything to do with water capture in the soil.
    This stump has personality! Brachychiton rupestris, Australian Bottle Tree.
    The leaf cover makes this rain catchment basin look full.
    California sycamore, 8 years old.
    A covered bridge over the rain catchment system.
  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    What Food To Plant

    At this time we are in month #2 of the Corona-19 virus quarantine. Many people are concerned about food shortages, and purity of what food they are eating. Suddenly the availability and the sheer cost of buying ‘organic’ food is not looking so sustainable. But what can you plant?

    First of all, if you have an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or food stand near you, or farmer’s market with organic food, please buy from them as much and for as long as you can.

    If you want to grow food, the here are some tips:

    Zucchini, garlic, bush beans and cilantro allowed to go to bloom.

    Plant what you want to eat. That may sound simplistic, but if you don’t eat yellow summer squash, then don’t plant it. If you really don’t like kale but think that you should eat it, you may want to use the space for something you will eat. If you are thinking of perennial foods such as fruit trees, evaluate your space and also what fruit you really want to grow. Some things are just better off purchased from a farmer than given the space and water in your yard. If you use limes once a week, growing a big thorny lime tree in a small backyard doesn’t seem practical, but if you have half an acre its fine. See what its growing requirements are and if you have enough heat or chill factor or water to grow that specific tree.

    Beans growing up stick teepees around a young plum tree.

    Plant enough for your family to eat. One or two strawberry plants aren’t going to give you the crop that you want, or will one been plant. If space is limited, then decide what you want to grow a lot of, and limit what you are growing per season to those crops.

    What season is it? Don’t be fooled by what plants are for sale in box stores, hardware stores, and even nurseries which should know better. You can’t grow corn planted in the Fall: there isn’t enough day length or warmth for them to mature. Depending upon where you live, there are windows of opportunity for planting, down to here in the valleys of Southern California where you can plant something all months of the year. Which is pretty exhausting, actually.

    Fresh beans come in ‘bush’ or ‘pole’ size. Pick what fits for you.

    Plant food that not only can be eaten fresh, but also those which can be dried, frozen, canned or otherwise saved for off-season. Its great to eat fresh salads, but plan for protein and flour sources as well. Grow pinto, black or other ‘dry’ beans, those which you leave on the plant until the pods dry and then you harvest and keep the beans. There are so many beautiful beans, with so many different textures and flavors! And they have great names, like Christmas Beans, Goat’s Eye Beans, etc. As most of these are tall-growing, you can put these beans on poles or other vertical supports and save room in your garden. Remember that legumes are nitrogen fixers, so don’t pull up the plant, cut it at its base to leave the roots and their nodules to feed the next crop.

    Assortment of edible pumpkins and squashes on their way to the Food Pantry

    Don’t forget about pumpkins and other ‘winter’ squash. Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash that is delicious, not too ‘squashy’, and keeps its shape when in tempura or in a soup or stew. Delicata is mild and delicious. Spaghetti squash has a mild flavor and is fun to eat, but usually needs some pizza treatment to make it interesting. There are a lot of winter squashes with a myriad of flavors, sizes and textures. Pumpkins and other winter squash can keep for a month or more, depending upon their variety. If you have large ones, prepare to have to ‘butcher’, prepare, use and store a lot of food. Pumpkin pancakes, bread, soups, stews, baked pumpkin, pumpkin chai…. mmmm.

    Yes, you heard me right when I said flour. Growing wheat is possible, but growing enough to make a difference, then separating the chaff and grinding it finely enough to use for flour is quite the endeavor. However, you can easily grow corn and make cornmeal. Hard corn is the same as those pretty ears you see at Thanksgiving. You allow the corn to dry on the stalk, and then separate the kernels from the ears (shucking), and store them as is, or put them in a high speed blender and grind them finely. You may need to sieve the results a few times and repeat to get a fine flour, or even use a mortar and pestle for some stubborn bits, but the flour is excellent and can be refrigerated or frozen.

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    Colored corn makes colored corn meal, too. We’ve grown Black Corn and had dark purple corn bread, absolutely love blue corn meal pancakes, and this year are growing both Hopi green dent and red corn. Can’t wait for green cornmeal for Halloween!

    ‘Irish’ potatoes grown in a cardboard-insulated pallet bed. Its filled as the plants grow.

    Don’t forget about tubers, either. ‘Irish’ potatoes, which don’t come from Ireland, grow from swollen stems and can be planted in containers and then hilled up around the growing stems. More potatoes will grow from the side stems. You can plant ‘trash can’ potatoes, or have a bed especially for them. These potatoes don’t mind some cold. There are white, yellow, red, blue, purple, red-skinned, purple-skinned… so many different potatoes with slightly different textures and flavors. I love the purple-inside variety; it makes great colorful mash!

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    Purple sweet potatoes are AWESOME!

    Sweet potatoes and yams, which are basically the same thing, are a tropical plant best put in the ground when the soil and temperatures warm up. If you are iffy about eating sweet potatoes… grow your own and taste them without all that marshmallow gloop all over them. They are absolutely amazing. And their leaves are edible as well (not so with the ‘Irish’ type!! Those are related to tomatoes). There are colorful varieties of sweet potatoes as well, and they can certainly be grown in the house as a lovely house plant under the right conditions, and then dumped and eaten!

    Don’t forget about growing herbs, not only that you can eat fresh such as basil, but those you can dry such as oregano and dill. Don’t forget medicinal herbs that you can make into tea whether fresh or dried, such as chamomile, catnip (it works as a pick-me-up for humans!), mint (anti-depressant and stomach soother), rosemary, and more. Perennial herbs can go anywhere in your landscape; annual herbs can have their own bed or be tucked in between your veggies as companion plants. Allow some herbs to go to flower to attract the tiny beneficial insects.

    Cilantro going to seed. Excellent flowers for tiny beneficial insects, and seed for next season.

    If you suspect that your soil may be contaminated from a former agricultural or industrial business, such as a paint factory, that was on the land before your home was built, please have your soil tested for lead, chromium and arsenic at the very least.

    Growing your own food is very rewarding, and well worth the work. Protect your food from hungry animals with wire, over and if necessary, under. Make sure the plants have regular water, so hooking up a watering system on a battery timer is a smart move for busy people. Place your veggies close to the house so you will run out and harvest when you want something. Make sure your site has enough sun even in the winter so that, if weather in your area permits, you can grow outside then as well.

    Don’t forget that all of those veggie scraps can be saved and then used to make a really amazing broth before they are finally composted. The broth can be frozen.

    Have fun with your veggies! Stay healthy! Best wishes to all of you from Miranda and me.

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    A Video Journey Through Finch Frolic Garden with Kaye Kittrell

    PERMACULTURE PARADISE Garden Tour | San Diego, California

    Kaye tours Finch Frolic garden, a permaculture paradise in San Diego County, California. Diane and Miranda Kennedy developed an educational food forest which…

    We were visited in early November, 2019, by Kaye of Late Bloomer video blog fame. Come have a short virtual tour of our permaculture food forest in the Fall.

    Please visit Kaye’s YouTube channel, Kaye Kittrell | Late Bloomer Urban Organic Garden Show , to see more of her adventures in gardening. Also, please ‘like’ the video to show Facebook that you care! Thanks for watching.

  • Gardening adventures,  Heirloom Plants,  Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures,  Planting,  Recycling and Repurposing,  Seeds,  Soil,  Varmints,  Vegetables

    Corn Stalks as Pea Stakes

    Our corn grew to a ginormous 10′ height this year in our raised pallet beds. The roots of corn are very sturdy; we usually cut the stalks above the roots, and allow the roots to stay in the ground to decompose. Often they are there a year later, still holding the soil.

    Miranda being consumed by corn and zucchini.

    As it is October and, despite the 95 degree F. temperatures and hot, dry Santa Ana winds that are so typical of Fall here in Southern California, it is time to plant winter crops. Peas are the top of the list to plant. There are many types of peas. Some are valued to be eaten as pods when the peas inside haven’t matured. Some – and these are my favorite – produce juicy round peas that can be shelled and frozen for use all year. Some produce a lot of tendrils, and these along with the new leaves and shoots are eaten in salads and stir-fries, and are very attractive. There are also cowpeas, which are really beans that enjoy warmer weather, so not a candidate for winter crops. Best of all, peas and the rest of the legume family set nitrogen in the soil. They have a symbiotic relations ship with certain bacteria that must live in your soil for this to happen. The plant harvests nitrogen out of the atmosphere, and stores it in nodules on its roots. When the roots die, either from the plant being cut back or dying, the nitrogen is released into the soil in a plant-usable form. No need for chemical nitrogen fertilizers.

    King Tut peas are good eating before and after the peas form in the pods. The peas are green.
    King Tut flowers are gorgeous.

    One of the problems I’ve had growing the tall peas is having the best supports for them, especially in raised beds. I never seem to have tall enough posts, or the posts fall over and chaos ensues. This year we decided that we’d already grown our pea supports: our corn.

    Cutting corn
    Trimming a few feet off the corn. I’m 5’3″ tall, for comparison. I have a phone in my back pocket and my pants are loose, so please don’t think I’m that saggy!

    We cut the corn stalks down to about 8 feet; above that the stalk was a little weak, and the stalks would be tall enough for our purposes. Then we planted vining (not bush) peas in and around the base of the corn. We had a lot of success with King Tut peas last year, which had beautiful purple pods (but green peas), so we opted for more of these in this bed.

    Miranda planting around the corn. We left some of the cut sweet potato vines we’d just harvested from this bed to help hide and protect the pea seeds, and to return nutrition back into the soil.

    Now the peas are growing rapidly, and we’ll be able to train them up the sturdy, straight corn stalks with the help of some twine. When the peas are done, we can either use the stalks all over again for another climber, depending upon how they last over winter, or we cut the corn and the pea plants at the surface of the soil and put the whole pile into a compost pile, or into another raised bed. Corn is a hungry plant, so the pea’s nitrogen-fixing capability will help restore fertility to that raised bed. Remember that we use no fertilizer other than in-bed composting using kitchen scraps, plant cuttings, manure from our hens, and leaves, and anything else that will decompose. The beds are being watered by salty well water, too.

    Baby peas are shooting up quickly.

    To help deter mice we sprinkle red pepper flakes over the seeds, and Miranda makes up a spray bottle full of hot sauce and water and sprays the beds in the evenings.

    Re-purposing is so fun, especially when the result is better soil, healthier plants, and less work for us!

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    School

    I haven’t been a busy blogger for the past year, and that is not for lack of interest or input. I’m always shooting photos and writing posts in my head. The difficulty lies in finding time to write. I’ve gone back to college.

    As I’ve traveled through my life as a female I’ve been very fortunate in my jobs and by proving myself through lots of hard work. A year ago I came across a new barrier that I hadn’t expected: age. I have discovered that once mid-fifties is paired with the female sex, doubt arises as to your competency and abilities. As all of my formal education, other than my permaculture design certificate, was experienced in the 80’s, and even though all the subsequent years have had excellent work records in the same fields, I’ve been stereotyped. People want current credentialing. With looming increased life expectancy I will need to work for a long time, I need to do everything I can RIGHT NOW before I age any more.

    In the Fall of 2018 I enrolled at Mira Costa College, an hour’s drive from here, in their horticultural program. I was fearful of being the odd-ball oldest one in the class, of my struggle to memorize as quickly as I used to, of being in class with students who grew up with computers, of school itself. I hated school the first time around.

    I had been the awkward, chubby, shy wallflower who was in the mentally gifted programs, but held a low A or B+ average. I loved choir, drama, and working on the school newspaper. I disliked socialites and their casual cruelty. Still do, although I’ve forgiven them.

    I attended UCSD, UC Berkeley, and then Mesa College, and although freeing in many ways the experiences made me realize that I was certainly not cut from the commonly accepted fabric. I would always be slightly on the outside looking in. School was something to endure.

    I am now in my fourth semester at Mira Costa, shortly will turn 58, and I love it. I found that I don’t have the social issues from before. There are such a range of ages and backgrounds in my classes that sometimes I’m not the oldest one. I have been the only female in a class, and that was okay. I have found only one person who objected to my being alive (that I know of), and I don’t think I’ll encounter her and her loud mouth again. And I just don’t care about how she acted. Its her problem, not mine. In most horticultural classes the students bond, and then when they see them again in another class they are friendly. Socially, its a far better experience than when I was younger.

    The learning has been amazing, but I work extra hard to memorize and to retain what I’ve learned. I know that I’ve lost about half of what I’ve memorized, and only repetition will bring it back. That’s on me. However, the brain work is excellent and I know that I am warding off future brain failure with every assignment.

    I am working, volunteering, keeping up the garden and attending 3 classes, so life is very busy. My daughter has taken up my slack and has been working in the garden keeping it going far more than I have. She has three jobs, so between balancing them and caring for our animals and property she is just as busy. She has made me some meals and frozen burritos to take for dinner at school as well. Its really nice to be taken care of a little. My mother was the last person to do that when I was a teen.

    Challenges with technology have not been an issue. I have felt comfortable taking tests on the computer when required and have enjoyed the completely online classes. There have been technical glitches, but there have been support channels through the schools and with my fellow students that have helped me through them. And I have helped others. The professors have been great.

    What I’ve been learning I’ve been putting to use immediately in my consultations and at Finch Frolic Garden. The more I know, the better I can help.

    The interesting part of this endeavor has been the reactions from my peers. Many who are my age or slightly younger are amazed and delighted that I would do the unthinkable… go back to school at an age when most are looking towards retirement. It seems to them as if I was moving to a different country without understanding the language or customs for an immersion program. I receive delighted support from them. Some are appalled and treat it like a sentence that I have to serve. “How much longer do you have to do this?” I have one friend who thinks its nonsense, a waste of my time. But then from him I not only receive support, but a subtle ‘old fashioned’ repression because I’m female although he’d be appalled to think he did. Most people just don’t understand that, without a steady income for as long as I can earn it, and judicious savings, I might run out of money and become a burden to my children long before I can shuffle off this world. Longevity is inherited on my mother’s side. I have many friends, and know many others, who are single women from ages 50 to 80 who have a very, very low income and who rent casitas or rooms. They rely on the tolerance and stability of the landowner for the roof over their heads, and if that changes they may be outpriced to find another accommodation in the town they’ve lived in for decades. They have gone minimalist, having to get rid of belongings because there just isn’t a place to put memorabilia. Some work part time at as many jobs as they can find just to stay ahead. Many receive supplemental food from the Fallbrook Food Pantry, especially if they have to pay for medications. It is a nightmarish situation where instead of being cared for as their bodies fail them in so many ways, they are completely self-reliant and have to get themselves to the DMV, to the doctor, to the grocery store, to the bus, to the lab, to a specialist, to the pharmacy. Its something American should be ashamed of, the abandoning of its mature generations. And no one would think of hiring them.

    What I realized when I began working with volunteer groups years ago is the amazing experience and abilities of the retirees who now had time to contribute towards a cause they believed in. Grey hair and wrinkles make we who are aging all look similar, but these people are survivors, movers and shakers. These people are constantly reading, vibrantly involved, often continue to have their own businesses, have survived the death of spouses and children and siblings and schoolmates. And now I am one of them.

    Going back to school has given me a purpose, as I am a goal-oriented person and can feel cast adrift if I am left without a path. I am enjoying the challenge and accepting my short comings, and realizing that I have been guilty of stereotyping the younger students as well. Many are second language learners in a foreign country trying to write technical papers fluently in another language. Many have served in the military and are looking for kinder, gentler occupations such as growing plants. Many are juggling families, work and school. Some have had horrific health issues. And many are going through the agonies that I went through as a youth, feeling awkward and ugly and stupid, and hoping there is a place where they’ll find acceptance at the end of the tunnel.

    Two years ago I read a Facebook post from a former school mate of my age who had gone back to school to receive certifications that would improve her job and income working with students with disabilities. I thought, “How amazing that she’s gone back to school! That’s a horror I’ll never repeat.” I praised her for her success. Then, as karma has it, when faced with being rejected for several jobs because I was of a certain age, and my schooling had happened decades before and somehow didn’t qualify anymore, the idea of going back to school was the only thing left to me. Because of my friend’s testing the waters first, I realized that I could do it, too. I am hoping that this lengthy blog might inspire others to do the same: Its better the second time around.

    So when in a crowded room of thirty students the guest lecturer asks if anyone would have issues with taking a quiz through their smartphones and his eyes end up and linger on mine as the oldest one in the class, I smile back. And help the student next to me. And when I overthink a problem and screw up I ask the people around me, who are always…always ready to help. And I bring in extra vegetables and fruit when I can because so many of these students have no food security and many are living in their cars. Something unthinkable back in my school days, although I’m sure now that it happened. And I do homework crosslegged on my bed just as I did thirty years ago, but this time with a laptop amongst the papers, and I’m good with it. And I qualify for student aid and scholarships which help me get through it all, which is amazing. And my daughter bails me out when my laptop gives me troubles. I am a lucky woman.

    And showing my student ID card has given me some good discounts long before any Senior discounts will kick in!

    Think about taking classes, even just for fun, or for pass/no pass. The school programs need students to keep them funded, and what a better way to help yourself and help young people by ensuring their future educational options by supporting and attending them yourself? Who knows, you may still find someone to flirt with, just like the old days.

  • Animals,  Bees,  Integrated Pest Management,  Natives,  Other Insects,  Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures,  Predators,  Quail,  Reptiles and Amphibians

    Native Insects and IPM

    A tiny wasp.

    Honeybees are not native to North America; however, we have an amazing number of underappreciated, ignored or sprayed native insects. Here in Southern California where the lack of rainfall has created a landscape called the Elfin Forest, the canopy is short, the animals are small and many of the insects are very tiny. If you take a careful look at clusters of small blossoms you will see tremendous air traffic. Besides the honeybees, there are butterflies, moths, and bees, wasps and flies that range in size from the large black carpenter bees and shiny green June bugs, to predatory wasps no larger than a speck of dirt on the back of your hand. These are your companions. They are the unsung workers responsible for a large percentage of pollination and invasive insect control. They in turn are food for the other policing creatures of your garden, the small birds, lizards, frogs and toads. And newts, salamanders, dragonflies and damselflies… I don’t want to leave any of these marvelous workers out.

    A native predatory wasp laying eggs in oleander aphids on milkweed.

    These tiny insects need small clusters of flowers to feed upon, and planting to cater to the native insect population wherever you live is vitally important. It is just as important as building good microbial communities in the soil.

    A plume moth.

    Here is a video – a shaky one taken with my phone as my camera is in for repair – of the tremendous activity around our blooming apple mint. The mint is next to our vegetable garden, and pollination is never a problem. Throughout our property we have blooming plants, mostly natives especially of course in our permaculture Zone 5, and they are feeding thousands of native insects – and honeybees – as well.

    Please be patient with the video (it picks up my pulse!) and enjoy our August garden.

    VID 20190808 093845359

    Tiny native insects on apple mint, and their importance to your IPM.

  • Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures

    Our Native Insects

    Squash bee

    Honeybees are European. There are no native honeybees in North America. What we have instead are thousands of bees, wasps and flies that may not make honey, but are responsible for pollination.

    Native wasp laying an egg in an aphid.

    Here in dryland Southern California there are over 300 species of native bees just to San Diego. Here we live in an elfin forest of chaparral and other similar plant communities. Due to the lack of rainfall, alkalinity of the soil and water, and therefore smaller plants and flowers, many of our native insects are small as well. Some are the size of a fleck of dirt on your hand. Many of these little wonders predate on the pest bugs in your garden.

    Tiny wasp.

    Most of these insects are solitary rather than colonial like the honeybees. They live in the ground, in hollow twigs or holes in dead wood. Leaving habitat around for them, or creating a native bee house, or buying one such as SoloBee’s, will encourage them to stay and feed in your yard. Another way would be to plant plenty of native plants around your property, especially those with clusters of small flowers such as buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.) and ceanothus. These tiny insects need a tiny landing pad, a little sip of nectar they won’t drown in, and plenty of food sources close together. Allowing some of your mint, carrots, dill and basil to go to flower also gives them a food source. On a warm day look carefully over a patch of small blooms and you’ll be amazed at the activity flying around the flowers.

    A species of Metallic Green Bee

    If the non-native honeybee’s existence is being threatened, think about what effect pesticides – particularly systemics – as well as other chemicals, environmental factors and native plant clearance effects our indigenous little fellows and gals.

    Stop using harsh chemicals outdoors, plant and maintain native plants, and take a very close look at tiny flowers. Helping the little ones helps all of us.

    See more great insect photos under ‘photos’ on our Finch Frolic Garden Facebook Page.

  • Breads,  Gardening adventures,  Health,  Heirloom Plants,  Hugelkultur,  Permaculture and Edible Forest Gardening Adventures,  Planting,  Recycling and Repurposing,  Seeds,  Soil,  Vegan,  Vegetables,  Vegetarian

    Growing Cornmeal

    Sweet corn is a wonderful summer treat; although you can freeze it, is never as good as picked, steamed and eaten within hours. However hard corn can be dried, ground and stored for use throughout the year. Some varieties that aren’t super sweet can be eaten fresh or left to go hard for grinding. Miranda and I have fallen in love with growing and grinding colored corn. They are not just for Thanksgiving decorations anymore!

    We’ve grown Indian corn and small cute popcorn. We’ve also grown the lovely Glass Gem Corn, with its opalescent pastel colors that was all the rage for the last few years. It made a lovely lightly colored cornmeal.

    Last year we planted Oaxacan Green dent and black corn. Wow. The black corn was the most successful, growing about 12 feet tall.

    The black variety was Maiz Morado or Kulli Corn, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It had many aerial roots, which were black- actually a very deep purple- growing from several nodes.

    The black corn began to peek out from the husks and it was magnificent.

    We harvested the ears and let them lie on our warm porch out of the sun to finish drying. The stalks we tied up for Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, and then they went into filling a raised bed.

    When it came time to shuck the ears, we marveled at the color of the kernels. They were spectacular; so were the green dent.

    Even better, the inside of the husks were colored, too. We dried them and saved them for tamales.

    For New Year’s Eve, we stripped the dried kernels from the cobs; not a difficult process and one we could do in the evening after dinner while watching old Time Team reruns on YouTube.

    When ground, the black corn meal was a light purple. We use our VitaMix’s special grain grinding container, but a normal one would work as well.

    For tamales I guessed at a recipe, mixing half corn meal with half flour, a little baking powder and some vegan butter, and vegetable broth to wet. The mixture was very elastic and can certainly use work, but it was tasty and worked well to hold the filling together. The cornmeal turned a medium purple color when wet.

    Soaking the husks to soften them was a treat, as their red color leached into the water making it look like wine.

    For fillings I couldn’t help but go with the whole purple theme, so I steamed one of our Molokai purple sweet potatoes which are an amazing purple as well.

    I also cooked up some of our frozen beet greens with onion, and used those two together with vegan cheese. A second filling was black beans mixed with cumin, oregano and our pickled carrots and jalapenos, and sweet corn with vegan cheese.

    Miranda and I got such a kick out of all the colors, especially the purples. We couldn’t wait until they were steamed, which took about an hour and twenty minutes.

    When the tamales were opened we were in awe. The black cornmeal had turned a very deep purple, and it was only half and half with flour! It was awesome. We enjoyed them with guacamole and, of course, our last Paul Robeson tomato because you just can’t have too many purple foods on your plate. The photo of the open tamale doesn’t do it justice.

    We store the cornmeal in glass jars in the freezer. It makes excellent cornbread and cornmeal biscotti, as well as polenta and fried cornmeal mush. How fun and reassuring it is to use our own unsprayed, non-GMO cornmeal.

    Coming up we’ll be planting black corn again, and a large patch of green dent as well; I want to see what pure green cornmeal looks like when cooked… maybe for Halloween dinner?